Following sanctions, Bryant staying could save Mizzou’s football program

While 2019 may be a lost year in terms of accolades, the hope of a promising season from Kelly Bryant is crucial for the future of the program.
Former Clemson quarterback and incoming Missouri graduate transfer Kelly Bryant looks into the stands of Memorial Stadium before the Tigers' game against Kentucky on Oct. 27, 2018. Bryant, who's expected to be Drew Lock's successor, compiled over 3,000 passing yards at Clemson.

After the dust settled following a day of confusion and frustration, there were lots of uncertainties for Missouri football: why the NCAA came down so hard on it when programs who committed seemingly more severe offenses got smaller punishments, the future of the school’s appeal and whether or not it will be allowed to play in a bowl game at the end of the season.

One thing coach Barry Odom and the rest of the team know for certain is who will be under center throughout the 2019 season. After brief speculation that prized transfer Kelly Bryant would leave less than two months after his commitment from Clemson, a source close to the quarterback quickly dispelled those rumors, reportedly saying Bryant will “play his 12 games and try to go undefeated.”

With the assurance that Bryant will remain in Columbia, Mizzou is now in an odd predicament. It has a potentially program-changing quarterback who will play what many believe will be a meaningless season, with no chance of a conference championship appearance or a bowl game. With that said, the postseason ban might not be as big of a blow to the program as it appears, with Bryant being a key in keeping the program afloat and relevant in the SEC.

Through three seasons under Odom, Missouri’s record has improved from 4-8 to 7-6 to most recently 8-5. It’s on the right track, but still has a long way to go before it has any shot at joining the ranks of Alabama and Georgia atop the SEC. It was unrealistic to think this year, even with Bryant, would be the year Missouri makes the leap. But now that Bryant will play for the Tigers next year, the team has the potential to be another stepping stone toward joining that elite class.

Bryant has only lost two games as a starter in his collegiate career. If he can come anywhere close to replicating that success for Missouri, it won’t matter if there are only 12 games. The team will take the steps needed to continue climbing the ladder.

The biggest concern for MU football isn’t necessarily the loss of a bowl game, but the residual effects these sanctions will have on the future. The general fear is that they will cause the program to regress, bringing fewer recruits to Columbia and forcing everyone involved to go back to square one. It takes years to build up a major college football program, recruiting, gaining a reputation as a place where good players want to go. One bad season and all the good will and improvement Mizzou’s made could be canceled out. With Bryant, that might not be the case. Since the postseason ban is only for one year, potential recruits from the 2020 class won’t be particularly affected. A good 2019 season, even if it doesn’t end with a bowl game, will be sufficient in the progress of where Odom ultimately wants to bring the team.

The NCAA’s punishment of Missouri was unfair and inconsistent, but the next season is still far from a lost cause. It won’t end in a national championship, but that was never more than a pipe dream for Missouri fans. It could end, however, with a winning record, a satisfying conference season and optimism for the future.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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